Hillie Football Basks in Public Accolades for Record Season

Hillies players on the sidelines. Photo courtesy of Hillies Football Boosters

During Thomas O’Brien’s first year as athletic director for the Haverhill Public Schools, documentary filmmakers from cable network HBO came calling. They’d heard about the Haverhill High School varsity football team’s four-year losing streak and thought the team’s real-life story would make for great TV drama.

O’Brien took the idea to football coach Timothy O’Connor, thinking the students might enjoy the attention and the chance to see themselves on TV. O’Connor rejected the idea, not wanting his kids to be portrayed as losers. He had other ideas, and a plan to turn the team’s fortunes around.

Five years later, HBO may want to come calling again, this time to document what a winning program looks like.

The 2016 Hillies varsity football team beat all the Merrimack Valley Conference rivals it played in the season just ended, winning nine of 11 games and achieving the best record by a Haverhill High School football team since 1936.

The team that had lost 32 games in a row is now the fifth-best team in the state.

The School Committee took a portion of its meeting Thursday to give public accolades to O’Connor and a group of his senior players.

O’Brien credited the football team and other successful athletic programs with raising school spirit and luring students to Haverhill High who, in years past, may have chosen other schools.

The athletic director noted that nearly half the student body was at Trinity Stadium when the Hillies played conference rival Central Catholic.

Calling the athletics program “the front porch of the school,” Sports programs are what show to the outside world, but it’s what happens inside the schools, the academics, that are the most important.

 “You’re the pride and joy of the community right now,” School Committee member Paul Magliocchetti told the students and their coach. “Enjoy it. Hopefully, a few of you will come back later in your lives and inspire others to accomplish what you accomplished.”